Future Technician Preparation: Exponential Expression Impacts

As the corona virus impact on our health becomes vividly apparent, its influence on manufacturing related technician education is just over the horizon. Its unwanted and scary health exponential expression in the United States will be adsorbed by America at multiple levels. Reflecting on last month's theme; Two-year community college programs focused on technician preparation have three forcing functions that dictate their course of action: the education system structure; faculty professional development; and the teaching approach. COVID-19's alteration in teaching pedagogy is in full swing but it alteration on what is to be taught is still in the early morning haze.  

 The essential virus driven safe distance workplace practices that have drastically reduced, or cancelled manufacturing productivity are temporary. Although COVID-19's duration is not known yet, its exponential expression time constant, tau, will be determined and then American manufacturing can plan to start the swing back into full gear. In the meantime, medium and small sized manufacturers are dealing with a different exponential expression: their current timetable for full implementation of Industry 4.0 and the value of that tau, t, is now going to be noticeably smaller. 

Manufacturing must return to profitability for American society to return to “normal”.  Unlike the
great depression and similar drastic national scale human financial mismanagement economic failure periods, profitability recovery from natural disasters can be influenced by small to medium sized manufacturers.  Before COVID-19, many of these companies were starting to implement Industry 4.0 sensor-based automation manufacturing practices. The number of non-industry 4.0 systems in manufacturing facilities was decreasing but the time constant value, t, for that predictive model exponential expression was large.  Industry 4.0 automation technology is initially daunting and expensive. Pre-virus manufacturing companies were profitable and were adjusting their production expectation via Industry 4.0 sub-systems at a pace that maintained that productivity. That environment has changed.  Today there is less productivity and uncertain profitability. Tomorrow, post virus profitability will also return exponentially and will be driven by the entire manufacturing sector’s increasing use of Industry 4.0 automation at system levels.

The faster decrease, smaller t value, in the number of non-Industry 4.0 systems in manufacturing is the reality check that brings us back to our discussion's initial premise: "What is to be taught is still in the early morning haze". Manufacturing will accelerate Industry 4.0 technology implementation, but it can't use the "one-size fits all" approach. Two-year college programs that produce technicians and advanced operators must continue to respond to workforce needs of companies. However, those needs will now rapidly shift to the acquisition of a technical workforce that will install, start-up, adjust, maintain, modify, trouble-shoot, and repair sensor driven interconnected equipment as manufacturers adjust their production to a new demand profile. Are the knowledge essentials and skill sets currently taught to produce such technicians? If so, what are the specifics? When and where are they presented to future technicians?

In summary, the American public is getting a good and intensive dose of time dependent exponential expression mathematics. American manufacturers and two-year technical program facility are already very familiar with exponential expressions. Both of these populations appreciate that first order (simple) exponent governed models are all the same. The desired predicted results, in this case the number of non-Industry 4.0 systems that exist today, simply equals the maximum possible number of non-Industry 4.0 systems multiplied by a time exponent expression governed by the value of a time constant, t.

After Social Distancing is over, manufacturers will exponentially decrease the number of non-Industry 4.0 systems they are using now faster, and college technical programs will have to exponentially increase the number of graduates to keep pace with industry demand. How that is done and what topics are taught are immediately important decisions. However, these are national decisions governed by regional manufacturing productivity and subsequent profitability factors. The National Science Foundation is the tool colleges can use to address their part of this challenge.  NSF-ATE has resources that will help now.  NSF-ATE is listening and can put its resources into action in response to what it hears. Now is the time and opportunity to speak up. Think about the ideas outlined above. What are your manufacturers going to do post COVID-19?  Share what you know with us so we can share that knowledge with others.  Send us your thoughts at gilbert@usf.edu.

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